Oral thrush is caused by a strain of yeast fungus called candida albicans, which lives on the skin and inside the mouths of most people. Normally it’s harmless, but if people are run-down, or their immune systems are weak, it can cause an infection. New babies are still developing their immune systems (especially in the first 8 weeks), so both can be prone to infection. Also sometimes newborns may have picked up thrush during a normal vaginal delivery.
Thrush can also occur after a course of antibiotics when the harmless flora and bacteria that would have kept the thrush at bay have been killed.
You should speak to your doctor or midwife if you think that you have thrush, it is not something you should try to treat on your own. Both you and baby need to be treated at the same time to ensure you get rid of the thrush.
Oral thrush is a common condition, affecting about 1 in 20 babies. It’s most common in babies around in the first 8 weeks of life. Premature babies (born before 37 weeks) are more likely to catch a bout of thrush because of their undeveloped immune systems.
If you baby has oral thrush it might be passed onto you while you are breastfeeding. It can occur after you’ve been treated for mastitis with antibiotics.
You are more likely to have thrush if:
Symptoms of thrush in babies include:
Symptoms for Mum include:
Thrush on the nipple can mean that you cannot bear to have anything touching your breast, not even clothes. Sometimes the thrush can get into the milk ducts causing deep shooting pains into the breast during and after breastfeeding your baby. Mothers often describe the pain in very graphic terms ‘feeding through broken glass,’ ‘unbearable’ and dread their baby waking up for feeds.
Before diagnosing or seeking treatment for Thrush it is important to exclude other causes of nipple/ breast pain so contact your health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor to ensure that your baby is feeding effectively.
Sometimes the thrush will go away on its own after a day or two and the following self-help measures can be tried
However, if you think you have thrush and it’s not going away it’s easy to treat so make an appointment with your family doctor.
You and your baby both need to be treated since the infection can be passed back and forth between you.
Your GP may decide to give your baby some antifungal medicine. It’s usually a liquid or gel and you can use your finger or the dropper provided to put the prescribed amount on the affected area. You should be prescribed an ointment to apply to your nipple area as the oral medicine will not work on your breast.
Follow advice from your GP. It’s usually best to give your baby their oral thrush medicine just after your baby has had a feed or drink.
Once the infection has cleared up, continue to use the medication for another 2 days. If the thrush hasn’t gone after 7 days of continuous treatment, go back to your doctor again for more advice.
The symptoms of thrush – deeper breast pain or nipple sensitivity – are often confused with other things. If you have never had a period of pain-free breastfeeding, your problems are more likely to be connected to positioning and attachment problems than thrush. It’s important to get a breastfeeding assessment from your local support group or local breastfeeding counsellor. They will watch a feed and look at the nipple as it comes out of the baby’s mouth to check it isn’t coming out squashed or misshapen. As well as positioning problems, pain could be caused by a bacterial infection, an allergic reaction or another skin condition. Your doctor may do a swab on the nipple to help identify the cause.